It wasn’t until two years ago that Ambry NurHayati found out that she suffers from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). The 25-year-old opens up about the symptoms of the condition, the hoops she had to jump through to get a diagnosis, and how getting the help she needed changed her life.
“Growing up, I couldn’t sit still and found it hard to pay attention to anything. I’d tap my feet, play with the rings on my fingers and repeatedly forget things, so needless to say, I didn’t have the easiest time in school. I also struggled with interacting with others—I couldn’t maintain eye contact, would zone out halfway through a conversation and wasn’t able to empathise, so I often came across rude. As such, I didn’t have many friends.
But it wasn’t until I was in my first job that I realised something isn’t right with me. I had a cool job that allowed me to meet my favourite musicians, but I constantly felt overwhelmed because I had to keep fixing problems caused by my own negligence. For example, it was my duty to back up the interview footages but I’d frequently forget to bring a memory card. Having to keep solving issues I created left me feeling down and exhausted, so if I didn’t have to work on a weekend, I’d just stay home and sleep.
Initially, I thought that it was the job that was making me unhappy, so I moved to another company. It was an equally cool job—I got to meet David Beckham on my first day and, after a few months, was invited for a company trip. But after a while, I started feeling the way I did at my previous job. I felt that despite putting in extra effort for things that seems easy for other people, I was unable to yield the same results, and this left me feeling depressed. There were moments where I just didn’t feel like living anymore.
First given a misdiagnosis, then later refused an ADHD test
At the end of 2018, I opened up to a friend about what I’d been feeling and he advised me to get a referral from a polyclinic for a diagnosis at IMH. I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and prescribed anti-depressants, but the meds just didn’t seem to be working for me. Even though they helped me sleep better, I still felt dead inside and wasn’t relieved of my symptoms. I still could not concentrate and stop fidgeting.
The same friend noted that the way I was responding to the anti-depressants was similar to that of his brother, who has ADHD. He suggested that my anxiety and depression might actually stem from ADHD and urged me to get a diagnosis, so I made an appointment with my psychiatrist.
However, my doctor told me that he didn’t test people above the age of 18 for ADHD—he only did it for kids so their teachers know how to help them. I found this funny because it reinforces the misconception that ADHD is something that goes away as people get older.
It didn’t take me long to look up another psychiatrist who specialises in ADHD, and after two rounds of testing, he diagnosed with the condition and put on short-acting Ritalin [a stimulant medication used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy]. I was nervous about how it’d work for me but, man, it was like wearing glasses I didn’t know I needed. I became much calmer, and even though I’d still get distracted, I’d was able to work on refocusing. I could also actively listen to people more. To be fair, there are some side effects, but the benefits outweigh the bad.
The impact a correct diagnosis has had on her life
Because there are people who abuse them, ADHD meds are a controlled drug in Singapore. It’s very easy to obtain Ritalin in other parts of the world, especially on university campuses, but I need to make an appointment with my psychiatrist to get a refill here. If I could function without it, I would, but I can’t, so I wish people would stop abusing it so that it’d be easier for me to have access to it. I wish people would understand that I actually need them to work at a ‘normal’ level.
I also undergo cognitive therapy with a support group. There’s a facilitator in the group that’s also a shrink, and during our monthly meeting we discuss a different topic—it ranges from time and spatial awareness to the problems we face and the solutions we use. Our facilitator makes it a point to explain to us the science behind our behaviours so we can better understand how to manage them, and over the past half a year I’ve learnt so much about myself and how my brain works.
I’d told several friends about my diagnosis but many of them invalidated my issues because they had ‘bigger’ problems—it started to feel like it was a competition as to who has it worse in life. I cut these people out and grew closer to those who actually tried to understand my condition and showed me kindness. It really helps a lot to have a good support system when you’re going through things. You can have a diagnosis, meds and therapy, but if you don’t have a good support system, it’s easy to suffer a relapse. You don’t even need many people—just one good person is enough.
If you suspect that you suffer from a mental condition, you should first acknowledge that something might be wrong. This can be the hardest step, but if it’s affecting your everyday life, there’s no harm getting yourself checked, because if you come away with a diagnosis, then at least you’ve detected it. If you’re worried about how you’d cope with the costs, know that every Singaporean citizen is entitled to a government subsidy at IMH. You can also approach a social worker if you need extra help.
I know it can be hard to talk to a stranger about things, but remember, their profession exists for a reason. Also, you don’t have to disclose anything to people you don’t want to—unless it’s a life-or-death situation, IMH also does not give your information out without your consent, even to your family members. You have nothing to worry about.”
Struggling with mental health issues? These helplines are available in Singapore: IMH (6389 2222); Singapore Association for Mental Health (1800-283-7019); Samaritans of Singapore (1800-221-4444).